I'm currently building an alien language that I'm trying not to base on English or basically Europe in general, because that's what cool these days, right?

Anyway, what I think proper nouns are is a word (doesnt have to be a dictionary word) that is used to identify a specific thing.

Are there any other languages that don't use these proper nouns, and if so, what do they use to identify specific people and places?

I would ask for you to think of a system instead of proper nouns, but that belongs more to world building than here. Bonus points, though!

  • You can also upvote my answer if you liked it ! :) Nov 26, 2017 at 12:40
  • If this is an alien language then would have to give more information about the species / culture. Bug cultures probably don't have names, and they would just describe the referent. Humans do have names, so it depends on how similar your aliens are to humans.
    – user6726
    Nov 26, 2017 at 20:14
  • 1
    Do you mean languages that have no names whatsoever? Languages that use do/don't use a definite article before proper nouns? Languages (orthographies) that don't capitalize proper nouns?
    – b a
    Nov 27, 2017 at 10:14
  • +user6726 This question is asking about whether there are any human languages that dont have proper nouns. However, that is a good point. Nov 27, 2017 at 15:52
  • +b a I mean the first one. I think i made that particularly clear Nov 27, 2017 at 15:53

2 Answers 2


I think it would be possible, if cumbersome, for a hypothetical language to avoid proper nouns. Writing the aliens' dialogue in a book might not be fun, but it might work for an occasional detail.

The question is, what function do proper nouns fill? And can anything else do that job?

Proper nouns pick out a particular entity or set of entities. They are a shorthand. There are other ways to do that, often used if you don't know the name for a thing. These include possessives, predicates, and pronouns.*

Case: You have a dog with no name.
Solution: I say "Your dog." The possessive + a singular noun narrows it down to a single entity.

Case: But you've had other dogs in the past. You are unsure which "your dog" I mean.
Solution: I say "The dog you have now."

Case: You have a few children, one of whom I want to refer to.
Solution: I say "Your second child." Or perhaps she's the only girl. I say "Your daughter."

Case: There are photos of my cousins in a photo album.
Solution: I say "Have you ever met the one who's wearing a white shirt in this photo?"

Case: You find it hard to identify which cousin I mean.
Solution: I say "This one" and I point.

Case: I want to discuss the Jesuits.
Solution: I say "The missionaries who started going to other countries about four hundred years ago and who have been to all six continents."

Notice that the last one requires a few qualifying predicates; I can't even say Catholic or identify a single country they went to, at least by name. And it might still not be enough for you to realize that I mean the Jesuits. Even worse, we may not know the same things about them. You might think I mean some other set of missionaries because you don't happen to know how many continents the Jesuits have been to or in which century the society was founded.

Moreover, we might not even agree on a predicate. You and I could talk about "the greatest English writer" and I could be talking about Shakespeare when you mean Ian McEwan.

Those are the cases that would be harder to write.

Incidentally, even proper nouns aren't always enough to do this job. If you address "Luke" now, we know you mean me. But if there are two people named Luke in the room, you have to say "Luke S." or "Luke A." But what if a person's full name isn't unique? Say there are two people named Luke Sawczak. Now you have to fall back to the same strategies shown above: "The Luke Sawczak who was born in Canada" or "That one there"... and in sentences like those, the name looks awfully like a common noun, not a proper noun.

* I mention that pronouns are one of the strategies to avoid proper nouns. Obviously these are a huge help. And I can't imagine a language that could function without them. Even to identify the speaker ("I") or the listener ("you") in any conversation would become monumentally difficult. That said, there are languages that have bigger sets of pronouns than we do whose speakers might wonder how on earth we get by... :)


Welcome to Linguistics SE. The answer to your question would be yes ( is what I think ), since all cultures/languages have names and all names are proper nouns. Now, that is just one case, but it answers your question. Were you meaning to ask about any other class of proper nouns?

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